Pick any channel, any medium, any time of the day or night, and you’re bound to encounter joyous depictions or serious hand wringing about the “new” demographic of American communities. Think “Modern Family” or any analysis of the recent presidential election, and you get the picture.
The typical approach to the demographic shift is to count people — by race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, physical ability, or age. In 2001, the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) started promoting a different approach. It encouraged its members — 350 grantmaking organizations working together to strengthen, promote, and increase philanthropy in Michigan — to move beyond counting people to people counting. That year, CMF’s largely white Board of Trustees made a formal commitment to diversity based on its belief that “diversifying perspectives, talent and experience can help ensure philanthropy’s continued leadership in a rapidly changing society.”
While the demographics are certainly better than in 2001, the D5 Coalition State of the Work 2012 report of foundation demographics found that people of color make up only 10 to 17 percent of CEO and board leadership at foundations, and women constitute only 38 percent of trustees. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force estimates that LGBTQ individuals make up only 2 percent of foundation trustees. A CMF-commissioned study of the internal policies of 11 Michigan foundations found that most had formal written policies defining their visions of diversity and inclusion, yet few defined or monitored how or how well policies were implemented.
To understand how foundation boards can become more diverse and inclusive and why doing so matters, CMF and BoardSource co-hosted focus groups with diverse foundation trustees ranging in age from 35 to 75. Not one of them fit the typical foundation boardroom demographic in Michigan: White (80 percent), male (60 percent), and age 50 or older (66 percent.) Findings are reported in Diversity and Inclusion in the Foundation Boardroom: Voices of Diverse Trustees published by CMF in 2012 as part of its Transforming Michigan Foundations Through Diversity & Inclusion initiative.
What did we learn from these “outliers” about what it takes to build a diverse and inclusive board that adds value to achieving the foundations’ mission and goals?